The Minister and Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services have announced the re-start of the Welsh Government’s Improving Lives programme for people with a learning disability, which has been paused for six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcement was made in a letter from Julie Morgan, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, to Humie Webbe and Sophie Hinksman, Co-Chairs of the Learning Disability Ministerial Advisory Group. In the letter the Deputy Minister says:

“As you will know from the First Minister’s statement on 22 September, we are still in a very challenging situation as we try to manage the spread of this dreadful virus. Nonetheless, the Health Minister and I are agreed we must re-start the programme with a focus on those actions that will help address the most critical concerns around health inequalities, premature deaths, quality of life, anxiety and isolation; the aim being to support individuals and their families/carers to live as well as possible in the continuing challenges of the pandemic. I have asked my officials to work with you, other external stakeholders, health boards and local authorities to restart work immediately.”

Focussed areas

The Welsh Government have provided more detail of this focussed work, as well as the rationale for each:

1. Taking forward the health actions linked to health board recovery plans

Rationale: “It has long been recognised that people with learning disability are often subject to more health inequalities than the wider population, and they are more vulnerable to preventable illnesses than the general population. This includes respiratory illnesses, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. People with learning disability die earlier and more often of respiratory illnesses than people in the general population. Evidence from the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) in England suggests 40% of deaths of people with learning disability are attributed to pneumonia. The incidence of obesity and diabetes is also higher in this population. Taken together, people with learning disability are likely to be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 with three times the level of mortality than that of the general population.”

2. Taking forward social care actions linked to Local Authority recovery plans

3. Reducing Restrictive Practice, and Positive Behavioural Support

4. Education – meeting the needs of learning disabled children and young people as they return to education

Rationale: “Third sector partners are reporting increasing anxiety and isolation amongst the learning disability population and their families and an increasing occurrence of challenging behaviour which families are forced to manage on their own.  There is a strong feeling amongst families, carers and individuals with a learning disability that their voice has been lost during the pandemic and that decisions are being made without considering the impact on this group.  Examples provided by stakeholders include, the issue of key Covid-19 statements and guidance without “easy read” versions, move to cashless payments – many individuals with a learning disability are unable to access debit/credit cards.  A particular concern has been expressed at Local Authority decisions about removing grant aid, re-modelling or abolishing day services without involving and working with stakeholders.”

Learning Disability Wales welcomes re-start of Improving Lives

Zoe Richards, Chief Executive of Learning Disability Wales, said: “We welcome the announcement from Welsh Government that the Improving Lives programme will re-start with immediate effect.

“Before the pandemic people with a learning disability already faced huge health inequalities and we are pleased to see that this will be a priority area for the programme. We also welcome the emphasis on school age children and supporting their education programme.

“We look forward to continuing to support this work through our many programmes and projects at Learning Disability Wales and also through the Learning Disability Consortium which includes All Wales People First, All Wales Parents and Carers Forum, Cymorth Cymru, Downs Syndrome Association, Mencap Cymru and ourselves.”